HBO’s ‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’ filmed at Vassar

Courtesy of Karl Rabe

Two weeks ago, HBO released the first season of “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” a dramedy co-written by Mindy Kaling of “The Office” and Justin Noble of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”. The series follows the college life of four first-year suitemates: Kimberly, Bela, Leighton, and Whitney. The comedic crux of the show is the crude, vulgar dialogue and interplay between the students set against the backdrop of the prestigious, hallowed Essex College—or as it exists in real life—Vassar College. 

According to co-writer Justin Noble, the production team chose to film at Vassar because it has the type of university aesthetic the producers were seeking. As “Sex Lives” takes place in Vermont, the producers sought the characteristic look of colleges in the area. Noble elaborated, “[B]ecause Vassar is as old and prestigious as it is, it found itself on the shortlist, and then they were such great partners to us that we were thrilled to produce the outside scenes there.” The producers thought that Vassar’s gothic architecture and stone buildings were a perfect living representation of Essex.

Noble expanded on specific spots that the crew liked, and the Thompson Memorial library was the first space he mentioned. The majority of shows such as this one film exteriors at secondary locations and build interiors back on set in Los Angeles. However, Noble noted that when they needed interiors at Vassar, the library was exactly what they were looking for. He stated, “Thankfully the Vassar interiors were so beautiful that that made it easy as well. There was a day where we had a rainstorm, and instead of the girls having a conversation out on the quad, we had to move it inside the library and make it a study scene.”

Perhaps the most crucial task the series faced was crafting as accurate an on-screen portrayal of college life as possible. In this facet, Vassar delivered too. Noble described how “[Vassar] just felt inherently collegiate, and it was cinematically showing us that very much ‘on the go’ vibe that you have in college.”

 Some of the principal factors in creating such a space were the contributions of Poughkeepsie background actors, who served as extras during filming over the summer—500 eager local residents and students to be exact. 

Students were excited to see their campus represented in the new series. Carly D’Antonio ’23 described how fascinating it was to see an on-screen representation of her in-semester home: “It was crazy seeing all the buildings disguised as something else. Seeing Rocky as a dorm? Really crazy.” [Disclaimer: D’Antonio is a Humor Columnist of The Miscellany News.] Other students noted the simple pleasure of seeing places they frequent on the big screen, in particular the Quad. Jesse Dellen ’23 noted,“Watching my favorite spots be featured in an HBO show was super interesting.”

Courtesy of Karl Rabe

The filming of the show also proved a tremendous boon to the local Poughkeepsie economy. Around a month of on-site filming gave the cast and crew the opportunity to discover the local restaurants and coffee shops and to explore the Hudson Valley. Both Kaling and Noble echoed this appreciation for Poughkeepsie and the greater Hudson Valley and all they have to offer. According to the Poughkeepsie Journal,, the filming amassed around $5 million towards the local economy through money spent at local hotels and other businesses. Carolyn Patterson ’22 described seeing the film crews around campus while she was living in Poughkeepsie over the summer. “It was definitely totally different to see camera crews all over campus and to have so many actors and extras around Arlington,” she explained. 

The series is now streaming on HBO as of Nov. 18. 

3 Comments

  1. I am a Vassar alumna [Class of 1966]. I watched the first episode of “The Sex Life of College Girls” last night, eager to see its staging on our beautiful campus. I entered Vassar the year after Mary McCarthy published “The Group,” so I was not entirely unprepared for a story pertaining to sexuality. Still, the script and acting impressed me as being garbage. Whatever financial benefit Vassar may have derived from the project, I don’t think it was worth it.

    • I am a male graduate from 1985. Judging by all the amazing intelligent women I met at school and have stayed friendly with and my vassar wife, they clearly were desperate to have men and therefore let me in. So I appreciate if you take the following thoughts and advice with that grain of salt. I think the show gets better as it goes on and covers some interesting topics about life at college in the present day. The stresses these kids are under to be PC and diverse creates a very interesting environment and a dramatic tension Perhaps give it a couple more episodes?

    • I am a graduate from 1985. I initially found the show silly but as I watched more I felt they covered some very interesting issues of college life today. The issues today’s students have to deal with are somewhat different than we did as the social landscape has changed. The woman seem empowered to deal with the men on campus and there is far more diversity than there was in my day.
      The show get a bit graphic sexually but I would give it more of a chance as I believe it’s well written and acted.

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